Python dance and the NADECO old song
The venerable Chief Anthony Enahoro used to lead the opposition National Democratic Coalition, NADECO. Now Baba Enahoro is gone and so are many of the old veterans like Chief Adekunle Ajasin, Senator Abraham Adesanya, Chief Bola Ige, Otunba Solanke Onasanya, Mrs Kudirat Abiola and Sir Olaniwun Ajayi of the anti-military struggle that dominated our lives in the 1990s after the annulment of Chief Moshood Abiola victory at the June 12, 1993 presidential election. Recently, NADECO met in Lagos again to back the call for restructuring. It wants a return to regionalism and it is recommending its old formular for Nigeria. NADECO is embracing change by reaching to the status quo of the past when Nigeria had only three powerful regions.
In 1960, when Nigeria gained its independence from the United Kingdom, each of the three regions had its own Constitution and its own coat of arms. When the military came in 1966, it struggled to abolish our differences, went to war to keep Nigeria one and 36 states later, we still need Operation Python Dance to remind us that the union is contentious. President Muhammadu Buhari, in other to rein-in the separatist Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, had approved that the military carry out its exercise in the Ibo heartland of the South East. The governors, sworn on the current Nigerian Constitution, came out to oppose IPOB while its members scurried into hiding and its leadership driven underground. NADECO is alarmed by this development and is asking for a change of strategy.
“The actions of the military, we restate, are inconsistent with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and may be the beginning, if not checked, of the unwitting or witting subversion of democracy in Nigeria,” stated the NADECO statement. It opposed the deployment of military personnel into civilian areas in the guise of military exercises. The military had announced that it would soon commence another round of exercises in the South-South and South-West which it code-named “Operation Crocodile Smile.”
The NADECO statement was issued by its chairman, Rear Admiral Godwin Ndubuisi Kanu, the first military governor of Imo State which was created from the old East Central State in 1976 by the regime of General Murtala Muhammed. He later served also as military governor of Lagos State. Kanu, along with many top retired military officers, was one of the most consistent supporters of Abiola during the struggle to revalidate the June 12 mandate. He is a fearless man of unbending integrity. In those early days, he stood shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe, General Ipoola Alani Akinrinade, Air-Commodore Dan Suleiman and many other leaders. At the height of the struggle, they wanted the military regime of General Sani Abacha to hand over power to Abiola who would head a Government of National Unity that would organise a proper Constitutional Conference.
NADECO warned that the current strategy of the government poses a threat to democracy: “We are very troubled by recent national development and are forced to issue this warning to all our compatriots that democracy is once again under threat in our nation.” It warned that it was wrong to declare IPOB a terrorist organisation. “All these actions are unconstitutional and represent an illegal takeover of the functions of the National Assembly, the Abia State House of Assembly and the legal authorities,” it stated.
Now NADECO is back to the old beat asking that Nigeria should begin the process to have a proper Peoples Constitution. It is confident that the path of constitutional reforms is the change that Nigerians are expecting. The ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, campaigned for power, promising Nigerians change. Its main dramatis also mouthed the gospel of constitutional reforms and restructuring. The onus is now on the party and its various governments in the states and the Federal Government, to put action to their promises.
By entering the ring now, NADECO may be trying to recover lost grounds. After the death of Abiola in military detention in 1998, many Nigerians have expected NADECO to transform into a political party. Many of the leaders who participated in the struggle against military dictatorship under the auspices of NADECO agreed that constitutional reforms were the main assignment of the post-military era. However, there were fundamental disagreements on the strategies to arrive at our destination. They also did not agree early enough to form a proper national party.
“Nobody is better qualified to carry out the assignment of constitutional reforms and return Nigeria to true federalism than Tony,” Chief Bola Ige said at one of our meetings in Ibadan shortly after the death of Abiola in 1998, referring to Chief Enahoro who was then in exile in the United States. Professor Wole Soyinka volunteered to talk to the veteran nationalist during his trip to the U.S. The meeting was not successful. Enahoro insisted that he would not run for the Presidency under a constitution bequeathed to the country by the military. He said we should agree on the Constitution first before we agree to contest elections. “I cannot see any light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
Chief Enahoro was not alone in his warning. Afenifere leader, Senator Abraham Adesanya was also not sure whether we should participate in the Transition Programme put together by the military regime of General Abdulsalami Abubakar. In the end, the sheer number of politicians eager to join the game swept Afenifere into the ring and Chief Ige was mandated to lead the team to form a political party. He came back with good news. A coalition of leaders across the country has agreed to form a new party. Ige suggested and it was agreed that the new party should be called Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. The Afenifere leadership later moved out of the PDP to help form the All Peoples Party, APP and later the Alliance for Democracy, AD.
After a lot of mutation and metamorphosis, the old AD has now become the APC. There are a lot of differences between the original AD and the APC, but it is the nearest to what we have in 1999. The AD governor of Lagos State in 1999, Chief Bola Ahmed Tinubu, is now the leader of the APC. His three other surviving colleagues, Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo of Ekiti, Chief Bisi Akande of Osun and Chief Olusegun Osoba of Ogun, are all leaders of the APC. Were Chief Adebayo Adefarati of Ondo and Alhaji Lamidi Adesina to be alive, they would most likely be in the APC.
Like the APC too, the surviving leaders of NADECO, especially its Afenifere branch are also in support of change. What they want is a new Constitution for Nigeria that would be the result of a proper Constitutional Conference. Those people who participated in the 2014 Conference brokered by the government of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan believe that the report of that conference is closer to what Nigerians need. Methinks, the members of that conference were not elected, but they were men and women of prominence and distinction.
Adebanjo, a veteran of the NADECO struggle and one of the titans of the Afenifere leadership, has been consistent in his call for Constitutional reforms. In his view, only a return to the old path of the Republican Constitution of 1963 would be proper and correct. He wants a change that would not need to be sustained with the python dancing or the crocodile smiling. That is a long road to travel.
It is soothing that those who campaigned for change are now in power. They need to move fast in the right direction so that the NADECO denizens would not think they have been betrayed. The NADECO leaders too need to tell us how the nation can move in the right direction considering that despite the objections of Enahoro and others in 1998, we all eagerly embraced the current military imposed Constitution. That Constitution now has a life of its own and its precepts cannot be easily brushed aside.